For heterosexual couples in the West, holding hands with a partner for the first time is a relationship milestone that often happens without much concern for what strangers might think. But for gay and queer couples, such a seemingly simple act can carry much more weight.
We asked our readers in the L.G.B.T.Q. community to tell us about the first time they held hands with a romantic partner in public, and what the moment meant to them.
Below are some of the responses we received, edited and condensed for clarity.
Being openly gay or queer is still not safe or accepted everywhere, so we gave our readers the option of being anonymous or omitting their last names.
‘He was the first guy I felt strongly enough about to not be ashamed’
Evan S., 28, lives in Madison, Wis.
I first held hands with a boyfriend in public just this past year. I guess he was the first guy I felt strongly enough about to not be ashamed.
It was scary. Perhaps it was growing up at a time where homosexuality wasn’t talked about. Or maybe it was because it was the first time I felt so in love that I didn’t care what anyone else thought.
Regardless of the reasoning, I still get uncomfortable — but I give my partner a death grip as if to tell him, and the world, that I’m proud and I’m not letting go.
‘In a moment of affection, I grabbed my girlfriend’s hand’
Alison Knudsen, 43, lives in Lincoln, Neb.
I was 21 In a moment of affection, I grabbed my girlfriend’s hand and was promptly threatened by an angry young man who fantasized in great detail about blowing my head off with a shotgun.
It’s now 2018. I held my wife’s hand in the same neighborhood. We got cheers.
‘I deserve to live freely just as any other person does
Michael Reyes, 27, lives in New York, N.Y.
I was 18 years old when I first held hands with another guy. I had just graduated from high school in Temecula, Calif., when I started dating my first boyfriend. I was still very much in the closet — only a few close friends knew that I was gay.
One day we drove to Los Angeles to see a concert and as we got out of the car and started walking toward the venue, he held my hand. My heart began to beat faster and I hesitated putting my hands in my pocket, but I decided to just keep walking with his hand in mine.
I felt like so much attention was on us when we started to walk by other people going about their evening in the city, but I quickly realized nobody was really noticing us at all (it was L.A., after all.).
But what I remember about this experience was the feeling after I got over the initial moment of holding hands with a guy in public for the first time.
That who I am and my relationship is nothing that needs to be hidden and I deserve to live freely just as any other person does. I remember feeling relief and excitement about my future as a gay man which motivated me to live openly and authentic.
I’m 27 now and let me just say I had to fight to finally be here. But that moment holding hands with my teenage boyfriend was the first time in my life I had confidence in my sexuality, which changed the way I viewed myself and the life around me.
‘I didn’t hesitate to hold her hand in public’
Cheyanna Carbajal, 25, lives in Aurora, Colo.
When I was 18 and my (now) wife and I had been together for a short time, I was so into our relationship that I didn’t hesitate to hold her hand in public until it was already happening.
While I was holding her hand, I was suddenly very defensive. I was continuously searching for someone who would have a problem with it. We always refrained from a lot of P.D.A. and when we did hold hands, we had a lot of negative comments thrown at us.
I never really felt in danger until after gay marriage was legalized. Once that happened, people were a lot more open about their homophobia and we toned our public affection down even further.
To this day, we really try to refrain from touching too much and rarely kiss in public. Not to say we aren’t affectionate in public, but we stay very conscious of what is too much and what might offend people.
Less than a year
A man was coming out of the store with his daughter (probably 3 to 4 years old) and made a face at us and then said, very loudly, “That’s disgusting.”
‘The schoolyard excitement of it faded quickly to fear’
I came out of the closet at 24, almost two years ago, despite very supportive, open-minded parents, friends and family.
Shortly after I came out, I got on a lesbian dating app and met my first girlfriend. We went on our second date in downtown Indianapolis, walking through the arts district, and she grabbed my hand.
This is a part of the city where you could feel safe.
The schoolyard excitement of it faded quickly to fear, as I glanced up and saw two men. My girlfriend was very masculine-presenting, but I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I searched for their reaction — if they’d noticed.
That fear still bubbles up. And I honestly don’t know if it’ll ever go away.
‘I would like to say that we are brave and careless enough to walk around town holding hands’
Denis Topalović, 22, lives in Glasgow, Scotland
My boyfriend and I met at
The first time we held hands,
He recently dropped me off at the airport, as I was going back home for the summer. He’s moving away next year, so it was our last day together before entering a long-distance relationship. We said goodbye in an empty corridor overlooking a parking lot, away from the security gates where everyone else was parting from their friends or partners.
I have hopes that, some time in the near future, no one will have to seek a furtive goodbye.
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